On Doctor Who, the Pandorica, and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Doctor Who. :tardis:

To quote Murray Gold, “Moffat, what have you done?”

I could also quote the Master from “The Five Doctors,” but on the other hand that would be a spoiler, but on the gripping hand everyone already knows the quote, so I won’t quote it.

Before I go all thinkie, I thought the episode was fab. I laughed, I cried, I felt an emotional punch to the gut in the last five minutes or so. 😯

Spoilerific thinking…

Twenty years ago, one of my favorite comics was Legion of Super-Heroes. I didn’t know Paul Levitz’s era, or really anything before that; I came aboard during the “Five Years Later” period, when Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum took over the book. For a book as storied as Legion, the five-year jump made the perfect jumping-on point; you didn’t have to know the past because everyone — long-time fans and new readers — were all starting with the same questions: how did we get here, what was Venado Bay, why has the utopian future gone all wrong? It was a beginning, and for long-time fans it was a disconcerting beginning because it really upended the things they knew.

And then came issue #3. Or maybe it was issue #2. It’s been a long time.

Mon-El killed the Time Trapper. He knew he shouldn’t — it was the Time Trapper that was holding time itself together — but he did anyway.

And the universe rebooted. Everything the Legion had done was wiped out. Everything the Time Trapper had held together fell apart — and a different timeline, one dominated by the sorceress Glorith, who took the Time Trapper’s essential position, took its place and the Legion never came to be.

But several people, Legionaires in another life, remembered in a hazy, dreamlike way the universe that had been. And then put in motion a plan to undo Glorith’s timeline and restore the original timeline.

And the universe rebooted. Again.

This was now issue #5.

There are long-time Legion fans who still suffer from whiplash; in the span of like three issues, the Legion went through three different universes. All basically the same, though with the Glorithverse the greatest departure from the “norm.” But essentially, there were things that had to happen, and they did.

The restored timeline wasn’t the same. Superboy no longer existed in Legion history. That was the main reason for the triple reboot — post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman had never been Superboy, so there could not have been a Superboy in the Legion. Superboy’s role in Legion history was taken by the Daxamite Mon-El, Supergirl’s role was taken by Mon-El’s distant descendant Laurel Gand. But by and large, the new timeline was close; Isaac Asimov described in The End of Eternity something called “the line of maximum probability” — events that will absolutely happen unless the timeline gets really super-mega-monster-frelled.

What does this lesson in Legion history — specifically, the triple reboot — have to do with Doctor Who — specifically, “The Pandorica Opens”?

A metric fuckton, to be frank.

The Doctor’s greatest enemies have decided that the Doctor is the greatest threat to the universe that has ever been known. They have taken it upon themselves to capture the Doctor and trap him in the Pandorica, which seems to be some sort of prison. But imprisoning the Doctor doesn’t make sense. If the Doctor is the cause of the universe’s destruction, wouldn’t the alliance of the Doctor’s enemies simply destroy him? Trapping the Doctor leaves too much to chance; as the Doctor said in “Flesh and Stone”: “If you have any hope of seeing tomorrow, there is one thing you never ever put in a trap. Me.” No, the Pandorica must be more than a prison.

What if the Pandorica is bigger than a prison? What if it does to the Doctor what the cracks did to Rory — eliminate him from history entirely? The White Dalek says the Doctor will be “prevented,” full stop. Not that the Doctor will be “prevented from destroying the universe.” He will be “prevented.” The Pandorica may be a little bit Dalek Void Ship (from “Army of Ghosts”), a little bit time-space crack — it “unhappens” the Doctor. Thus the Doctor is “prevented,” full stop, not just from destroying the universe but from doing anything ever. It will be as though the Doctor never existed.

Removing the Doctor from existence serves the Alliance’s purposes in two ways. First, it prevents the destruction of the universe, because if the Doctor never existed at all, then the Doctor couldn’t bring about the universe’s downfall. And second, if the Doctor never existed, then the Doctor could not have defeated the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Rutans, the Chelonians, etc. etc. etc., time and time again. The races in the alliance know that eliminating the Doctor from history itself will destroy their own histories, but they would also be, from their perspective, in a better universe — one without the Doctor.

Just like Mon-El knew he’d be better off in a universe without the Time Trapper. Of course, it didn’t work out that way for Mon-El. And considering that the Doctor has put a lot of work into his universe (so says the twelfth Doctor to Emma in “Curse of the Fatal Death”), Whoniverse history could unravel without him.

We would enter, for all intents and purposes, the Doctor Who equivalent of the Legion of Super-Heroes Glorithverse. A universe without the Doctor. A universe where, though Stuart Ian Burns doesn’t quite put it this way, everything old is new again. Starships explode, because the historical path that brought them to that point in time and space no longer exists. Silence falls because the symphony of an entire history is snuffed out — and the symphony of a new history hasn’t resolved itself yet. The one constant? The Pandorica, like the Dalek Void Ship in “Army of Ghosts,” trapping what resides within outside of conventional space-time.

Six months ago, I thought Russell T. Davies would reboot the Whoniverse. Publicly, I thought he would do so for narrative reasons; it would clear the deck of some of his more absurd doings, while allowing Steven Moffat the ability to treat the present-day Whoniverse, which had become very unlike the present day, as something very present-day-like. Privately, I thought he would want to outdo what J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek; if Abrams could reboot Star Trek history, Davies, with his P.T. Barnum-like qualities, could surely reboot Doctor Who history. (It’s probably for the best that Davies left when he did, because the timing of when “The End of Time” was written and when Star Trek came out weren’t compatible for Davies to try and out-Abrams Abrams. Give Davies another year, though…)

Would Moffat reboot the Whoniverse, though?

I actually think he’s more likely to do so than Davies was. His short story “Continuity Errors” is all about rewriting history. Davies had no interest in the mechanics of time travel; the TARDIS and the time travel it offered was just a means to a story. Moffat has been very cognizant of the power of time travel; I may knock him for his apparent habit of going to bed with The Time Traveler’s Wife under his pillow, but it’s clear that he has thought through how time travel works and what can be done with it in his conception of Doctor Who.

After watching “The Pandorica Opens,” I started to wonder if Moffat went to bed with Keith Giffen’s Legion comics under his pillow twenty years ago.

That’s my theory. In next week’s Doctor Who finale, “The Big Bang,” the Doctor will be freed/released/escape from the Pandorica into a new universe, one in which he had never existed, and when all is said and done, the “Big Bad” defeated, history will reboot again, his own existence will be restored, and a new history will form, one similar to the past forty-five years to be familiar but not one exact to what we’ve known so as to be new and fresh. Thus, Amy Pond can die on Salisbury Plain in the second century CE, but after history is “restored” a twenty-something Amelia Pond, with an entirely different personal history, can travel with the Doctor for adventures still to come.

And no, I don’t think we’ve seen the season’s “Big Bad” yet. Unless the “Big Bad” is the Doctor himself. Or possibly Amy, because I’m not entirely certain, even now, that Amy is real, because given how much of the episode turned on identity, I expect that identity will have some significant bearing upon the conclusion.

My final (for the moment) word on “The Pandorica Opens”? Wow… 😀

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

2 thoughts on “On Doctor Who, the Pandorica, and the Legion of Super-Heroes

  1. Wow! That’s – wow! I need to cogitate on that in a major way…

    Not sure I agree about Moffat going to bed with TTTW under his pillow – after all, the Virgin adventures did a timey-wimey friendship between Irving Braxiatel and Professor Bernice Summerfield long before TTTW ever saw the light of day.

  2. I can see where you’re going with this – it would put a whole new spin on the way we keep seeing the previous 10 Doctors (and fulfill the rumor that “Matt Smith is going to try to be William Hartnell and wipe out all of Who history” that I’ve been hearing for ages.)

    But I don’t think it will entirely work that way. Not entirely. Comic book universes reboot all the time; Who swaps out the main actor but leaves the history intact – a history that Moffat has been a fan of since forever. I can’t see him wiping *all* of that out.

    So… Amy changed; quite likely. The whole universe shifting around a new Doctor – not so much. That would cut off too many things – after all, they’ve already filmed the next series SJA!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *